Law & Legal Studies

Best Dual Degrees for Lawyers

Best Dual Degrees for Lawyers
A number of degrees pair well with a law degree, delivering a strong career start to graduates willing to undergo the rigors of a dual degree program. Image from Pexels
Eddie Huffman profile
Eddie Huffman January 4, 2023

Adding a second graduate degree to your JD can position you for a highly specialized legal career. The workload will be challenging but the payoff can make it worth the effort.

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Doubling up on disciplines in grad school heightens the challenge and complexity of earning your graduate degree. Many universities offer combination programs that sound similar but differ in subtle but significant ways.

Take a dual degree vs. a joint degree, for example. Both help you develop expertise in complementary fields requiring distinct, valuable knowledge and skills. With a joint degree, you focus on the core coursework in two fields and graduate with a single degree covering two areas of concentration. With a dual degree, you graduate with two unique credentials. While a few individual classes usually count toward both degrees, you end up deeply immersed in two distinct graduate programs.

Dual degrees can be especially beneficial to lawyers looking to specialize in a particular field or industry. Developing a secondary area of expertise can help you stand out among other job seekers come recruitment time. But which are the best dual degrees for lawyers? This article explores that question and also discusses how does anyone complete a dual degree.

Best dual degrees for lawyers

The law extends into almost every aspect of life, from marriage (and divorce) to public health policy, real estate contracts to corporate mergers. Because of this, virtually any field of study has legal ramifications, making a dual program potentially valuable for anyone earning a Juris Doctor (JD degree).

“Best” is a relative term dependent on your interests and career goals, obviously. Still, a number of degrees pair well with a law degree, giving graduates a strong career start. Here are some of the most popular dual-degree programs that you can pursue at a single university, preparing you for the worlds of business, healthcare, or social services.

JD/Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Business and corporate lawyers occupy a prominent position in American life, working with large corporations, small businesses, and everything in between. They provide counsel and services related to a wide variety of topics, including corporate structure, contracts, government regulations, tax classifications, licensing, bankruptcy, personnel issues, and mergers and acquisitions.

Combining a law degree with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) positions graduates to attack complex challenges from multiple angles by combining business acumen with legal expertise. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., touts its dual-degree program as a way to get a competitive edge in corporate law, master the challenges of entrepreneurship, and understand mergers and acquisitions from both the corporate and legal perspectives.

Cornell’s business school develops skills in finance, marketing, and strategy via such courses as Financial Accounting, Data Analytics and Modeling, and Critical and Strategic Thinking. The Cornell Law School trains students in legal writing, analysis, and research; client counseling and interviewing; and oral presentation. From there law students move on to specialties such as corporate law and financial regulation; intellectual property, technology, and information; and torts and product liability.

A dual JD/MBA degree from Cornell takes full-time students eight semesters to complete–that’s a four-year commitment. Students spend the first year taking law school courses, followed by a year in business school. They take a mix of both during the final two years.

A Juris Doctor (also known as a Juris Doctorate or Juris Doctoris; JD for short) is the foundational law degree for aspiring attorneys. You can’t take the bar exam or practice law without earning a JD first. JD programs typically last three years and cover a broad array of legal theories and concepts. The core curriculum in most JD programs covers topics like:

  • Business Law: Covers legal principles and regulations that govern business transactions, corporate structures, and commercial activities.
  • Civil Law: Focuses on private rights and remedies, dealing with disputes between individuals and organizations, including contracts, property, and family law.
  • Civil Procedures: Study of the rules and processes that courts follow in civil lawsuits, including pleadings, motions, and trial procedures.
  • Constitutional Law: Examination of the U.S. Constitution, its interpretation, and its application to governmental powers and individual rights.
  • Contract Law: Explores the formation, execution, and enforcement of agreements between parties, including breach of contract and remedies.
  • Courtroom Procedures: Introduction to the protocols and practices used in courtrooms, including trial procedures, evidence presentation, and legal argumentation.
  • Criminal Law: Study of laws related to crimes, including definitions, classifications, and penalties, as well as the criminal justice process.
  • International Laws: Examination of legal principles governing relations between countries, including treaties, trade laws, and human rights.
  • Legal Methods: Focus on the techniques and skills used in legal analysis, reasoning, and argumentation.
  • Legal Research: Training in finding and interpreting legal resources, including case law, statutes, and legal literature.
  • Property Law: Covers the rules and regulations governing ownership and use of real and personal property, including land, buildings, and intellectual property.
  • Public Law: Study of laws that govern the relationship between individuals and the government, including administrative law, constitutional law, and criminal law.
  • Torts: Examination of civil wrongs that cause harm or loss, including negligence, intentional torts, and strict liability, and the legal remedies available.

Core courses are often front-loaded in the first year of a JD program. Law students spend the second year and third year taking electives in their areas of interest; participating in seminars and clinics; and completing a summer internship, externship, or practicum. Some JD programs require students to accomplish a certain number of hours of pro bono work before graduation.

Why might someone want both a JD and an MBA?

Students in JD/MBA programs, which tend to be intensive, are often ambitious, hardworking, and unsure what the future holds—this is a dual degree that’s tailor-made for students who want to keep their options open. Most people get law degrees because they want to become lawyers, but many JD/MBA candidates have no intention of ever taking the bar. They’re passionate about law, but only insofar as it can help them succeed in business.

On the other hand, some JD/MBA candidates’ interest in business is strictly legal. These students are often especially interested in corporate law and believe that earning an MBA will help them excel as corporate attorneys.

Both degrees have much to offer. MBA programs help students build valuable professional networks and develop high-level management and business expertise. JD programs help students hone their critical thinking and analytical skills. MBA programs teach students to be leaders. A JD can open doors in law and other fields.

How are JD/MBA programs formatted?

At many institutions, applicants must submit two separate applications (with both LSAT and GMAT scores) to the law and business schools; be sure to read the fine print before gathering materials. Some colleges and universities allow applicants to submit a single application. Some schools have loosened their testing requirements, so program applicants only need to submit GRE scores or GMAT scores. Applying to JD/MBA programs can be a process, so it pays to save time when you can.

Once you’ve enrolled in a dual JD/MBA degree program, you’ll take business classes, law classes, and courses related to business law. At some colleges and universities, JD/MBA students take both business and law classes each semester. At others, most semesters are devoted to either law or business, and students only take courses related to both law and business in the final year of the program.

At Northeastern University‘s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, for instance, JD/MBA students take law courses in their first, third, and fourth years. These include:

  • Antitrust
  • Bioproperty
  • Branding Law and Practice
  • Commercial Law: Bankruptcy
  • Corporate Taxation
  • Corporations
  • Employment Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Information Privacy Law
  • Information Security Law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Intellectual Property Transactions Practice
  • Internet Law
  • International Business Transactions
  • Patent Law
  • Secured Transactions
  • Securities Regulation

Year two is entirely devoted to business administration coursework. Students take core MBA courses like:

  • Analyzing Accounting Data for Strategic Decision Making
  • Customer Value and the Enterprise
  • Financial Management
  • Innovating & Creating Futures
  • Managing the Organization
  • Operations Management & Supply Chain
  • Social Impact of Business
  • Strategic Planning For the Future

If you’re wondering whether you can pursue a joint JD/MBA online, the answer is yes. Online JD/MBA programs are very rare, however, and you won’t find them offered by any high-profile law schools or business schools.

Which schools have the top JD/MBA programs?

Unsurprisingly, the best JD/MBA programs can be found at colleges and universities that have both highly ranked business schools and highly ranked law schools, like:

  • Columbia University
  • Harvard University
  • Northwestern University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • University of Pennsylvania

How long does it take to earn a JD/MBA?

JD/MBA programs are usually four years long, though there are three-year and three-and-a-half-year JD/MBA programs at some colleges and universities. These schedules represent a significant time savings when you consider that JD programs usually last three years and MBA programs often last two years. A four-year JD/MBA might be considered a full-time Juris Doctor plus a one-year MBA, while a three-year program is essentially an accelerated JD coupled with an accelerated MBA.

Are JD/MBA programs expensive?

On paper, JD/MBA programs are pricey. Harvard’s four-year program, for instance, costs upwards of $160,000. However, you have to consider that the six-figure price tag of the JD/MBA can represent a significant cost savings over earning each degree independently (which would cost more than $275,000) or even earning just the JD (which costs about $180,000).

Why does earning a dual degree with an MBA sometimes costs less than earning a single degree? It often has to do with how colleges and universities structure tuition for dual-degree candidates. At Harvard, students pay MBA tuition during the year they take business courses and law school tuition when taking law courses. During the two years they take both, they pay a mix of business school tuition and law school tuition. Somehow, it adds up to less than the cost of earning a single degree.

Before you enroll in a JD/MBA program because it’s less expensive than earning a JD alone, consider that any money you save in tuition will be less than what you’ll lose in forfeited wages. You also have to factor in living expenses if your JD/MBA program is far from home, the money you’ll pay for books and materials, and other incidental costs. Less expensive doesn’t equal inexpensive. Enrolling in this dual-degree MBA program means making a substantial financial commitment, though students in dual-degree programs usually have access to the same financial aid as students pursuing a single degree.

What can someone do with a JD/MBA?

The simple answer is you can become a lawyer or work in business. According to U.S. News & World Report, “most JD and MBA alumni end up in fairly linear career path” because they don’t land in roles that require them to use both their business skills and their knowledge of the law with any regularity. This may be slightly disappointing to applicants who are dreaming of using both degrees to their full potential. On the other hand, there are areas of law and business where having a JD/MBA represents a significant asset. A JD/MBA can make you a better corporate layer. It can also lead to senior management positions in financial services and other areas of business.

Annette Manning found her JD/MBA useful in her career in accounting. “For someone like me who prepares taxes, it makes perfect sense to get a JD/MBA because the MBA gave me the hours to qualify for the CPA exam and the JD (whether I sit for the bar or not) allowed me to add the qualifier JD behind my name,” she said. “For a CPA with a JD, the sky’s the limit, and the earning potential grows exponentially.”

Is getting a JD/MBA worth it?

Maybe, maybe not. Unlike many dual degrees that have obvious practical applications, the JD-MBA is often a hedge. Students pursuing this graduate school degree may not know whether they want to launch businesses or help others launch them, but they can see this joint-degree program help them do both. If you want to practice business law, a JD/MBA can make your resume stand out when you’re a newly minted attorney and give you a better understanding of what your clients are going through. In a management role, this dual degree will provide you with the tools to identify legal risks in addition to financial risks. For that alone, you’ll likely be in demand.

It’s telling, however, that a study of Harvard JD/MBA grads found that most went into business, not law. A JD/MBA will cost more than an MBA alone, and an MBA from a top business school can set you up for a long, strong career.

Ultimately, JD/MBA programs are challenging and time-intensive. While having this degree will almost certainly lead to an increase in income whether you go into law or business, you’ll also spend big to get it. There are also no guarantees that you’ll have a broader spectrum of job opportunities open to you. What all this means is that the best reasons to pursue a JD/MBA may be personal ones. If you find these two domains equally fascinating and you want to keep your lifetime career options open, then you’ll get a lot out of this dual-degree pathway. If not, you should explore other ways to boost your hireability and earning potential in business or law.

(Written by Christa Terry)

JD/Master of Science in Accounting (or Master of Business Taxation)

The worlds of law and accounting frequently overlap, particularly with regard to taxation. A lawyer with accounting expertise has a significant advantage, as does an accountant with legal expertise.

“Everything from tax consequences to estate planning involves complex legal and financial principles that interlink,” according to the American Academy of Attorney-CPAs. “Becoming a dually qualified attorney-CPA gives you a more well-rounded understanding of how these often abstract concepts work.”

Dual-degree students at the University of Virginia start off with a year of law school, learning the fundamentals in classes such as Contracts, Criminal Law, and Legal Research and Writing. From there they can take a combination of law and accounting classes until they have fulfilled their requirements, with some classes applying to both fields. The program is designed to allow students to earn a dual degree in seven semesters, one fewer than if they earned the two degrees separately.

UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce trains students in accounting basics as well as critical thinking, team leadership, and executive-level presentation skills. Graduates specialize in either Financial Reporting and Assurance or Tax Consulting. Potential classes include Judgment and Decision Making in Accounting, Federal Taxation, Communicating Effectively as an Accountant, and Data Management and Analytics for Accountants.

JD/Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Would you like to make an impact on the world around you while taking a leadership role? A dual degree in law and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) will launch you on the right trajectory.

New York University offers this dual degree through its Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, which “prepares students to become future leaders of public and nonprofit institutions as well as private organizations making a public service impact.” The program offers “foundational training in management and leadership, public policy, quantitative analysis, and financial management,” sending its graduates into the world “with the skills needed to confront society’s most pressing problems.”

Required courses include Statistical Methods, Microeconomics, Management and Leadership, Financial Management, and Introduction to Public Policy. NYU offers six areas of specialization:

  • Advocacy and Political Action
  • Financial Management and Public Finance
  • International Development Policy and Management
  • Management and Leadership
  • Public Policy Analysis
  • Social Impact, Innovation, and Investment

Twelve credits from each sphere count toward the other in NYU’s dual-degree program, which typically takes four years to complete.

JD/Master of Health Administration (MHA)

The complex world of healthcare needs people with legal expertise and administrative skills, whether they’re practicing law or working in the C-Suite of a hospital or other medical organization. A dual master’s degree in law and health administration prepares you to address those complexities at the highest levels.

“The relationships between healthcare service organization administration, practice, and policy and law is increasingly interconnected, and it is not unusual to find individuals with legal training and experience in top administrative and policy positions in a variety of healthcare service organizations and governmental settings,” according to the University of Oklahoma. “Given the growing number of healthcare administration problems in need of solutions, the demand for lawyers—especially at the policy level—with solid administrative training is critical.”

On the health administration side, Oklahoma offers courses such as Managerial Epidemiology, Financial Management, Healthcare Quality Management, and Marketing of Health Services. On the legal side, students take courses such as Healthcare Law and Ethics, Constitutional Law, and Legal Research and Writing.

Obtained separately, it typically takes three years to earn a law degree from Oklahoma and two years to earn a Masters of Health Administration. The dual-degree program confers both in four years.

JD/Master of Public Health (MPH)

The COVID pandemic highlights the critical need for effective public health measures. Few arenas find rights and responsibilities intersecting like law and public health. A dual degree will prepare you to navigate those turbulent waters.

“Just as law is central to protecting public health, knowledge of public health disciplines is essential to today’s health law practice,” according to Boston University. “Protecting and enhancing the health of populations, as well as individuals, demands multidisciplinary training to identify and resolve complex problems of major social and economic importance.”

BU provides that training through its School of Public Health. It teaches such skills as identifying the causes of illness, evaluating the ability of laws to address public health problems, and interpreting and applying scientific and statistical information. Core public health classes include Quantitative Methods of Public Health and Leadership and Management. On the law side, courses range from Globalization and Health to Biotechnology Law and Ethics.

Some classes apply to both disciplines, allowing full-time students to complete a dual degree in seven semesters or a minimum of 3.5 years.

JD/Master of Social Work (MSW)

Caitlin Beck wants to redress unfair legal punishments and other systemic injustices. She decided the best way to position herself to effect these changes was to earn a dual degree in law and social work from the University at Buffalo.

“In order to write policy well you need to be part of the system you’re writing policy for,” Beck says. “I’d like to ‘get my hands dirty,’ and then I’d like to see what I can change about some of the policies which I find very frustrating.”

Buffalo’s dual-degree program grounds students in both disciplines, with a strong emphasis on social justice and human rights. On the social work side, students learn “to intervene with individuals, families, groups, communities, and in systems of care and institutions using trauma-informed and evidence-based practice.” Core classes include Social Welfare History and Policy, Theories of Human Behavior and Development, and Diversity and Oppression.

Students have a choice of beginning in law school or the School of Social Work; Buffalo encourages them to start with social work. Classes in law cover the basics, such as Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Legal Analysis, Writing and Research. The disciplines converge in the third year with classes such as Advanced Intervention and Perspectives on Trauma and Human Rights.

Some classes count toward both degrees. The program takes full-time students four years to complete.



University and Program Name Learn More

How does anyone complete a dual degree?

Dual-degree programs aren’t for everyone. They’re challenging and take years to complete. For anyone with the resources and discipline to successfully pursue a dual degree, however, the rewards of cross-discipline skills and knowledge can pay off dramatically in the professional world.

Daniel Waldman laid out the pros and cons of seeking a dual law-business degree in a piece for Yahoo! Finance. He concluded, “Having a JD-MBA dual degree puts you in a unique group of educated individuals and opens a lot of doors and somewhat unusual career paths, but also requires tremendous willpower and dedication.”

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About the Author

Eddie Huffman is the author of John Prine: In Spite of Himself and a forthcoming biography of Doc Watson. He has written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Utne Reader, All Music Guide, Goldmine, the Virgin Islands Source, and many other publications.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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